Gov. says universities must 'share the burden' of state fiscal crisis

    Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger addressed Californians in his State of the State speech on Jan. 6, promising them he would not raise taxes while requesting support for a balanced-budget amendment and a $15-billion deficit bond measure that will appear on the March ballot. While he did not discuss details of his 2004-05 budget proposal, due Jan. 10, he indicated that he would be making significant cuts across the board.

    “”We have no choice but to cut spending, which is what caused this crisis in the first place,”” Schwarzenegger said. “”These are cuts that will challenge us all … These cuts will not be easy, but they will not be forever.””

    While the governor touched on subjects ranging from consolidation of government and reservation gaming to creation of jobs and K-12 education, he also briefly addressed issues relating to the state’s higher education system.

    “”We must end the boom-and-bust cycle of widely fluctuating fees with a predictable, capped fee policy for college students and their parents,”” Schwarzenegger said. “”And we must limit fee increases to no more than 10 percent a year.””

    He also indicated that the public university systems would share in the burden of funding cuts, but stated that he would nevertheless be funding UC Merced to enroll undergraduates in fall 2005.

    “”Like our kindergarten-through-12th-grade schools, our colleges and universities must also share the burden of the fiscal crisis, but we must work to expand the dream of college,”” he said. “”And we must not let the dream bypass our Central Valley. That is why my budget will fund UC’s 10th campus ‹ UC Merced.””

    UC Merced’s opening was delayed one academic year to Fall 2005 due to systemwide budget cuts in August 2003.

    UC spokesperson Hanan Eisenman could not elaborate on what the UC Office of the President interpreted in the governor’s statement about UC Merced.

    “”We certainly welcome this expression of his support of UC Merced,”” Eisenman said.

    As for student fee increase caps, the university is taking a cautious stance.

    aThe University of California has always supported a policy of moderate, predictable fee increases,”” Eisenman said. “”But we think that any such policy also factors in state support, and we are looking forward to seeing the details of his budget.””

    In reaction to cuts in state funding, fees were raised by 30 percent last year at the University of California.

    State Sen. Dede Alpert (D-San Diego) also expressed concern over cuts to the university.

    “”Higher education has already taken a big hit, and I’m very concerned that we’re going to have to return on a promise to Californians,”” Alpert said. “”At the rate we’re going, I’m afraid we’re going to see a couple of campuses close their doors to new students.””

    While Alpert agreed with Schwarzenegger’s call to limit rises in fees, she said she did not feel his opening UC Merced at this time was realistic.

    “”I personally feel that, where we are today, we can’t afford to fund UC Merced,”” she said.

    At UCSD, student reaction to the governor’s address was varied.

    “”My first reaction was that it was such a complete speech,”” College Republicans Vice President Adam Richards said. “”He didn’t dodge any of the issues. He said higher education would have to bear some of the brunt, but was quick to point out that the problem [leading to cuts] was left to him from the previous administration. He’s not playing the blame game; he’s just stating a fact.””

    Kate Maull, president of the College Democrats, said her organization felt Schwarzenegger was “”still just giving promises.””

    “”He still hasn’t given us anything concrete to work from,”” she said. “”We still just want the numbers. We don’t want to be skeptical, but we can’t help it when he just keeps talking more, not giving us numbers, facts or actual solutions.””

    Political science professor and California politics expert Thad Kousser said he is also eagerly awaiting Jan. 10 to see the details of the governor’s proposal.

    “”He did a good job on the speech,”” he said. “”But the budget is really where we’ll see where the pain will come in $15 billion in cuts.””

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